John Moulder - "Trinity"

(Origin Records)
John Moulder

Review by Brad Walseth

A sky filled with swirling clouds hangs low over the land and are reflected in the water of a slow moving stream on the cover of jazz guitarist John Moulder's "Trinity" album. The image is a trinity of air, land and water that stand calmly and mysteriously in the viewer's perspective, inspiring a tone of peaceful and haunting contemplation, yet the clouds in the distance hint at storms to come. Within the frame are other elements - the result of the interaction of the properties presented: trees, grass and other plants (hidden fish and birds?) - "Life itself" - existing and reflected in the very air, ground and water of our life-sustaining home planet. Finally ripples move the water, while sunlight warms the scene through the hazy atmosphere - suggesting an unseen presence - perhaps the hand of the Divine.

You don't have to be a Christian or religious to enjoy this recording, but it is a work of great gravity and spirituality, and its themes are most potent for those who still seek out answers to the great questions of existence: Why are we here? Are we alone in the universe? What is the purpose of life? Working in the same tradition followed by great composers from Bach and Palestrina through to Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck and John Coltrane, Moulder presents a well-conceived and produced work (the result of five years careful thought, songwriting and arrangement) that presents an intelligently modern Christian viewpoint in its tribute to God. You may or may not agree with the Christian credo, but it is heartening to hear it presented in such an admirable manner.

Graced with the substantial playing of a first class group of musicians including (among others) iridescent piano master Laurence Hobgood, the redoubtable Eric Hochberg on bass, dynamic drummer Paul Wertico, incandescent Tito Carillo on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Dane Richeson on frame and udu drums and percussion, Trinity often utilizes 3/4 time and is divided into three parts - representing God, the Son and The Spirit (also coinciding with pre-Jesus humanity, Jesus' life and death, and finally resurrection and the results).

The first piece in Part One (titled "Chaos") is an intriguing (mostly) free jazz portrait of the universe - before creation. As Moulder explains in the liner notes on his website, the soprano sax (by Rich Corpolongo), piano and bass were given snippets of melody to play - so that the initial idea of form can be sensed within the whirling void. "Creation" follows and is in 7/4 time (as in 7 days of creation) and moves in thirds (representing the trilogy) and through major chords reflecting the joy of creation. The arrangement here by Ryan Cohan is superb as Carillo's horns float above a primordial soup (Jim Gailloreto and Geof Bradfield on saxes and flute) with a dino stomp rhythm bed laid down by Hochberg and Eric Montzka and Richeson on drums, while Moulder's acoustic guitar snakes around the Tree of Knowledge yet to come. Surprisingly though - Moulder skips over The Fall and goes straight to Moses leading his people out of Egypt on "Exodus" - a vigorous, bluesy cut in a winding, twisting 11/4 - enhanced by Ken Hall on vibraphone and Moulder's gritty guitar solo that perfectly describes the hardships and travails of the desert journey.

Part Two's "Incarnation" describes the act of becoming human of the divinity - and which Moulder believes was an act of grace and beauty and not the result of sin or of a Fall. Featuring Paul McCandless on a gorgeous toned English Horn, the music (played with wondrous sensitivity by Moulder on nylon string guitar, Hobgood, Hochberg and Richeson) moves over a mostly descending bass line and is a piece of great quiet beauty. "Proclamation of the Unexpected" follows and describes a Jesus who upset conventions with his revolutionary messages. The arrangement - showcasing Brad Wheeler on tenor sax - moves in surprising and delightful directions - driven by Wertico's propulsive drumming and Kelly Sill's fluid acoustic bass lines. Hobgood and McCandless again shine on the dark and sad "Sorrowful Mysteries" - where Jesus' suffering and death are placed in context with the universal suffering of mankind. At times the piece resembles a polychord New Orleans funeral procession, while Moulder's almost painfully bluesy electric guitar functions both as the spear that pierces the side as well as the cry of abandonment on the cross. A remarkable arrangement whose texture calls to mind the darker shades of Gil Evans book.

"Pieta" opens Part Three and is a work of sublime sanctity as Moulder on nylon string guitar duets with McCandless in a musical portrait of the Virgin Mother weeping over her dead son. The highlight for me (as perhaps it should be) however, is "Resurrection" - which follows, and is again arranged by Ryan Cohan. Joyful, positive and rising on the wings of melody, the song builds in tempo as it navigates the heavens with Hobgood again sparkling, and Gailloreto's flute and Bradford's soprano sax singing and rejoicing. This song also features Moulder's most graceful playing and his solo soars and swoops majestically. "Freedom" ends the suite with a down-home stomp complete with cowbell, washboard and Moulder on dobro. Again referencing New Orleans blues, the artist represents human freedom of living in the way of the Lord as the ultimate happiness in life.

I had a recent conversation with legendary producer Teo Macero, and he decried the lack of a "viewpoint" among modern jazz composers. This is not something you can accuse John Moulder of as there is a definite point of view presented within this wonderful recording. Stylistically, it moves all over the place, but that is the way it should be - after all the music is attempting to represent Life itself in all its glories and tribulations. A weighty, heavily thoughtful release that takes on serious issues and yet still entertains - "Trinity" provides the listener with a successful trilogy of exceptional playing, passionate songwriting, and thought-provoking subject matter.

Check out John's liner notes and thoughts on the creation of "Trinity" at his website

Contact Brad Walseth and JazzChicago.net at bwalseth60@aol.com

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